In key ways, Sen. Marco Rubio seems to have benefitted the most from the Iowa caucus.
Rubio’s strong finish, along with that of Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders, were the most surprising events of the evening.
For the moment, at least, Rubio is wearing the crown of the so-called establishment Republican contender – the answer to the prayers of many in the GOP leadership as an antidote to lightning rods Sen. Ted Cruz and real estate mogul Donald Trump.
Rubio received 23 percent of the votes of Republican caucus-goers, which put him in third place and nearly tied with Trump, who got 24 percent. Cruz won with 28 percent.
Republican leaders have been eager to thin out the field of candidates and rally support around someone who can attract a broad group of GOP voters as well as independents and perhaps also some Democrats.
Rubio, who actually began his rise as a tea party conservative, has been packaging himself as a mainstream Republican who is the party’s most electable choice in the November general election.
"We have taken the first step – but an important step – to winning the nomination," Rubio, 44, told supporters in Des Moines after the caucus results were released.
Rubio’s campaign issued a press release afterward that echoed the notion of Rubio as having mass appeal unlike Cruz, 45, and Trump, 69, who have campaigned as outsiders who will upend the status quo in Washington, D.C.
“What we witnessed in Iowa yesterday was the result of the strength of Marco’s candidacy,” said the statement from the Rubio campaign, “a vision for a New American Century that resonated across a broad spectrum of caucus-goers, and a campaign built from the ground-up over the last few months that was ready to persuade and turn out the vote.”
On Tuesday, just hours after Rubio’s strong Iowa finish, Sen. Tim Scott, a Republican from the important primary state of South Carolina, announced his endorsement of the junior Florida senator.
“We have one shot in 2016 to beat (Democrat) Hillary Clinton, and that shot is Marco Rubio,” Scott said in his endorsement announcement. “And with him as our candidate: we win.”
Rubio also is raking in campaign money, with his super PAC raising more than $14 million in the last six months.
The Cruz campaign had grown concerned about Rubio’s growing momentum, and stepped up attacks on him in the days leading to the Iowa caucus.
Cruz has zeroed in on Rubio’s pivotal role in the 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that called for strict enforcement but also a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
“If that’s one of the issues we’re talking about heading into Monday that’s a good thing,” the New York Times quoted an unnamed senior adviser to Cruz.
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